Country gets OK to mine ocean floor

Updated: 2014-04-30 08:23

By Wang Qian (China Daily)

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China can now search the international seabed for three valuable minerals after a new exploration contract with the International Seabed Authority was signed on Tuesday in Beijing.

The 15-year contract signed between ISA and the China Ocean Mineral Resources Research and Development Association approved the country's exploration plans in the western Pacific Ocean for cobalt-rich ferromanganese crusts.

Under the contract, China has exclusive right to explore an initial area of 3,000 square kilometers. Over the first 10 years of the contract, 2,000 sq km of this area is to be relinquished.

Cobalt-rich ferromanganese crusts contain rare metals such as cobalt, nickel and iron and are used in various industries such as engineering, electronics, infrastructure and batteries.

The contract, the third signed between ISA and COMRA, makes China the only nation authorized to explore international seabeds for as many as three major types of minerals - polymetallic nodules, polymetallic sulfides and cobalt-rich ferromanganese crusts.

"China's faith and responsibility in peacefully exploring deep-sea resources and protecting the deep-sea environment will motivate our further cooperation in deep-sea activities," Jin Jiancai, COMRA's director, said at the signing ceremony.

He said COMRA will conduct comprehensive investigation and assessment on the resources and the environment in the contract area to deepen scientific knowledge of the deep sea and make contributions to global deep-sea exploration.

ISA has received 26 applications, of which 19 contractors have been given the go-ahead, to explore international seabeds for the three valuable minerals.

Michael W. Lodge, deputy to the secretary-general and legal counsel of ISA, congratulated China's impressive progress over the past decade.

Although a latecomer to deep-sea exploration, China won the right to search for polymetalic nodules in the northeastern Pacific Ocean in 2001, for polymetallic sulfide deposits in the southwestern Indian Ocean in 2011 and for cobalt-rich ferromanganese crusts in the western Pacific in 2014.

With China's first contract to end in 2016, which means the country can begin commercially mining for polymetallic nodules in the northeastern Pacific, the country still faces technical hurdles in mining the ocean floor.

China is also improving its legal system related to deep-sea exploration and mining to regulate deep-sea activities and protect the ocean, according to the China Institute for Marine Affairs, a think tank for the State Oceanic Administration.

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